-from contributing editor, Andy Ray
By way of review, 2013 was one of the greatest years in motion picture history, what with Lincoln, Les Miserables, Django Unchained, Gravity, Captain Phillips, Her, and others all hitting during Oscar season last year. Three films rose above the fray into what I like to call the “A+” territory. While Twelve Years A Slave was the best picture of the year, two others (American Hustle and Nebraska) could have won Best Picture in most other years.
Oscar Picks from Andy Ray
Best Picture & Best Director
2014, by contrast, is more a “normal” year for Hollywood. Only one film rises to the level of a true “A+” picture, and that is Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. Filmed over twelve years, Boyhood follows the trajectory of a family trying to cope with life in the 21st century, and views it through the eyes of the younger sibling, exquisitely played by newcomer Ellar Coltrane, who should have received a Best Actor nomination. The script is so interesting you’ll want to drink your soft drink slowly. You won’t want to miss a minute of Boyhood with a bathroom break. Richard Linklater deserves Best Director, and his script is a shoe-in for Best Original Screenplay. These awards (picture, director, and original screenplay) are obvious choices. They will win and they should win.
But that’s about it. That’s where my agreement with the academy ends. I have a feeling I know which actors and actresses are going to win their respective awards, and (as usual) I disagree with the academy’s choices. Where to begin?
Oscar for Best Actress
Let’s start with Best Actress. Remember, Amy Adams should have won Best Supporting Actress two years ago for her small but vital role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master. She wasn’t even nominated. Last year she was a shoe-in for Best Actress for her brilliant and commanding performance in American Hustle. Instead, she lost to Cate Blanchett in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. That has to be one of the worst Oscar decisions in history. For the life of me, I do not understand the academy’s fascination with the unfunny and overrated Woody Allen.
But I digress. Once again, Amy Adams has been stiffed by the academy. She should have, at the very least, received a nomination for her glowing work in Tim Burton’s Big Eyes. While 2014 was a fantastic year for lead actresses (Felicity Jones in The Theory Of Everything, Reese Witherspoon in Wild, and Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl), with Adams out of the way, this award belongs to the long-overdue Julianne Moore, who plays a middle-aged woman experiencing the heartbreak of early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease in Still Alice. I’ll have to admit if I were voting, I’d pick Moore – so I guess I agree with the academy here too – but I’m still upset the lack of respect the academy continues to show Amy Adams. One of these days she’ll win Best Actress, and much as with Julianne Moore this year, it will be long overdue.
Oscar for Best Supporting Actress
The Supporting Actress Oscar will go to Patricia Arquette as the mother in Boyhood, although it should go to Kiera Knightley for her young mathematics genius in The Imitation Game. None of the other actresses had enough screen time to compete with Arquette. But I’ll have to admit that of the four leads in Boyhood, Patricia Arquette made the least impression on me. Ellar Coltrane was great. He carried the whole movie on his shoulders. Lorelei Linklater (Director Richard’s daughter) was beyond adequate as Ellar Coltrane’s older sister. (In fact, their sibling-rivalry-turned-best-friends relationship was one of the most endearing qualities of this film). And Ethan Hawke shined as the weekend dad who was initially too immature for a family. Boy is his character a fooler. As Boyhood progresses, he becomes the father these kids have needed all along. But Arquette is simply the coping mom – not a bad performance at all, but nothing noteworthy either.
Again my complaint here is who was not nominated. Where is Kristen Stewart – the smarter-than-she-seems wayward daughter in Still Alice? And where is Anna Kendrick – so intriguing as Cinderella in Into The Woods? If Meryl Streep can be nominated as the Into The Woods witch – a part she could play in her sleep – then surely Anna Kendrick is also deserving.
Oscar for Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actor is the easiest to pick this year. It’s J.K. Simmons as the in-your-face bully of a college-level jazz band instructor in the excellent Whiplash. Simmons was great, and this award will certainly be the culmination of a long career as a relatively unnoticed character actor. (In other words, until now he’s the guy who always earns “scale,” in Hollywood jargon.)
But while I agree that Simmons is great, his character is “static” – meaning he doesn’t grow as the film progresses. He’s a bully at the beginning, and he’s a bully at the end. For the reasons I mentioned above, I’d pick Ethan Hawke for Boyhood.
Oscar for Best Actors
Now we come to Best Actor, and boy is this category a mess. Not because of the nominations themselves, but again because of who’s not nominated. If J.K. Simmons can win Best Supporting Actor for Whiplash, then surely Miles Teller deserves, at the very least, a Best Lead Actor nomination for his college jazz band percussionist who puts up with more abuse than anyone should have to endure, and in the process, grows from a boy to a man.
While Selma did receive a Best Picture nomination, David Oyelowo did not receive one for his astounding portrayal of Dr. Martin Luther King. I would have reversed these nominations. I had a real problem with Selma’s downright incorrect depiction of President Lyndon Johnson as a roadblock to passage of the Voting Rights Act, when in fact he was one of the act’s great supporters. For that reason, I don’t believe Selma is worthy of a Best Picture nomination. Yet Oyelowo’s King stands out as one of the great performances of the year. Oyelowo doesn’t so much impersonate King as he does embody King’s spirit. Plus, the cadence of his preaching is dead-on King.
Finally, where is young Oscar Isaac, the New York fuel-oil distributor dealing with a rash of truck driver attacks, D.A. investigations, and property purchases, all while attempting to keep his company and his head above water? It’s truly one of the great performances of the year, but sadly, A Most Violent Year has been overlooked by the academy. Soapbox warning: ABC should move the Oscars back to late March to give voters a chance to see all the potential worthy films. Moving the Oscars to February is nothing more than a ratings ploy, and that’s a damn shame!
My own personal pick for Best Actor would be Miles Teller, but since he isn’t nominated I’ll pick either Eddie Redmayne for his daring portrait of disabled physicist Dr. Stephen Hawking or Benedict Cumberbatch as the mathematician who broke the Nazi’s secret message code in The Imitation Game. If anything, Cumberbatch’s performance is better, but The Theory Of Everything is a better film. I still believe The Theory Of Everything is about Dr. Hawking’s wife, played to the hilt by Felicity Jones (and told through her eyes), but Redmayne is great too, and his performance (along with that of Cumberbatch) is the best of those nominated. I’m not going to split hairs between these two.
Unfortunately, the academy will see fit to honor Michael Keaton in the overrated and convoluted Birdman – a story about a 1980s Hollywood actor making a comeback in the New York theatre world, a plot which mirrors the trajectory of Keaton’s own career (not that that’s any reason to vote for Keaton, mind you). I was a huge Michael Keaton fan in the ‘80s. He was one of the funniest comedic actors of that time period, and he could also play serious (see 1988’s Clean And Sober). But while I’d love to see Keaton honored, Birdman simply isn’t the vehicle with which to do so. Keaton is great, but I had some real problems with the structure of the film, and the long tracking-shot cinematography was more an annoyance than some revolutionary new way to film a movie.
Cinematography & Conclusion
Which brings me to my final category, Best Cinematography. Given the nominations, I believe the academy will honor Emmanuel Lubeski’s long tracking-shot irritation from Birdman, when the year’s best cinematography was (you guessed it) not even nominated. What about Sharone Meir’s crisp fast-cuts of glowing brass instruments in Whiplash? In this case, the cinematography caused the music to jump off the screen. It’s a wonderful achievement, which will apparently go unnoticed save for right here.
So, to sum it up in this year’s Oscar picks from Andy Ray – it will be a grand night for Boyhood, but you can also expect to see Michael Keaton, Julianne Moore, Patricia Arquette, and J.K. Simmons walk home with statuettes. All in all, not a bad year, and (even with my complaints about Birdman) it will be a good year for acting selections.
After all, nobody in a Woody Allen movie is up for anything.